8 Clever Flagstaff Craft Beer and Hiking Trail Pairings

Guest blog by Stacey Wittig. Please adhere to required CDC healthcare travel guidelines, business recommendations and hours, and fire restrictions. Stay, play, distance and wear a mask responsibly.

In Flagstaff, Arizona, we love our craft beers, and we love our hiking trails, so what’s better than pairing our favorite brews with our much-loved trails? One thing that makes Flagstaff unique is our proximity to so many trailheads, some right within our city limits. So then, it’s easy to grab après-hike refreshments at one of our nine Flagstaff breweries.

1.) ‘Piehole Porter’ by Historic Brewing Company

Beer tasting at Historic Brewing Company Photo by Stacey Wittig.

Pair with: Fatman’s Loop Trail No. 25 (High foot-traffic trail)

Fatman’s Loop Trail is a relatively easy 2.4-mile loop, but remember you are at 7,000-feet above sea level. As a result, if you’re not used to the altitude, you might find yourself huffing and puffing like, er, well… a fat man. A few short, steep sections keep the trail challenging, but the easy access to the trailhead and forestland is really what makes this a favorite Flagstaff hike. Take State Hwy 89 0.5 miles past the Flagstaff Mall and turn left into the trailhead parking lot.

Access to Fatman’s Loop Trail is only half a mile from Flagstaff Mall. Photo by Stacey Wittig.

After your invigorating Flagstaff hike, head over to Historic Brewing Company (see #1 on the Flagstaff Brew Trail map at the end of this story) for a Piehole Porter, a recognizable Flagstaff craft beer. Historic’s brewery is conveniently located just 1.8 miles from the Fatman’s trailhead. The yummy cherry vanilla porter has a slight cherry finish. Sip the flavors of roasted chocolate, cherries and vanilla at Historic’s brewery or in their tasting room on South San Francisco Street. As the brewers say about the light red-brown colored brew, “Shut up and put it in your piehole!”

2.) ‘928 Local’ by Wanderlust Brewing Company

Wanderlust Brewery gets its name from owner Nathan Friedman’s love of travel, typically with skis, mountain bike, kayak, climbing rope or hiking boots in tow.

Pair with: Sego Lily Trail, part of the Flagstaff Urban Trail System

The Sego Lily Trail climbs up the east side of McMillian Mesa through Gambel oaks. Although this is part of the Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS, pronounced ‘foots’), you feel far from the city after taking just a few strides into the woods. In fact, many Flagstaff breweries are near FUTS passages. The amazingly “un-urban” Sego Lily connects to the Arizona Trail, yes, that 800-mile through-hike that links Arizona’s southern border with Mexico to its northern border with Utah. Follow the AZT northward to Buffalo Park. When you’re done admiring the magnificent views of the San Francisco Peaks, turn around and go back the way you came. For this Flagstaff hike, park on the corner of Izabel Street and Sixth Avenue for the Sego Lily trailhead.

Buffalo Park has trails for mountain biking, hiking and running, and views of the San Francisco Peaks.

Your après-hike spot, Wanderlust Brewing Company, is a mere three-minute drive from the trailhead in this off-the-beaten-path Flagstaff neighborhood. (Check out #2 on the Flagstaff Brew Trail map below.) Our Flagstaff craft beer pairing for the fun local hike is 928 Local, the flagship of Wanderlust Brewing Company. Brewmeister Nathan Friedman prepares the Belgian-inspired farmhouse ale with local wild yeast and local honey. Hence the name ‘928,’ which, BTW, is our local area code.  The Flagstaff craft beer is inspired by tradition yet is crafted with Friedman’s modern twist. The ale yields fruity and flowery aromas and a dry, rustic finish (8 ABV 23 IBU.) Toast to ‘Traditional Ales for Unexplored Trails,’ which is also the slogan of this hyper-local Flagstaff brewery. Open Wednesday - Sunday.

3.) ‘Tower Station’ by Mother Road Brewing Company

Pair with: Elden Lookout Trail No. 4

Mount Elden Lookout Trail begins at the same trailhead as the Fat Man’s Loop, the previously mentioned Flagstaff hike. However, just because the trailhead is across State Highway 89A from the Flagstaff Mall, don’t think this is an easy-peasy walk in the park for mall rats or fashionistas. Quite the opposite is true. I believe this is the toughest trail in the Flagstaff area, with 2,400 feet of elevation gain. That, coupled with its steep profile, makes this my go-to training trail when I need to build my quads or sharpen agility.

The steep, upward 2.5-mile climb to the lookout tower is on uneven, rocky terrain that can be an ankle buster. So pick your steps carefully. However, the strenuous out and back hike rewards with fantastic views of Flagstaff and the surrounding cinder hills. BONUS: Often, fire spotters invite hikers inside to observe from the fire tower initially constructed in 1914 but then rebuilt after the devastating Radio Fire in 1977.

Mount Elden Lookout Trail takes you to the fire watch tower seen in the photo above. Photo by Stacey Wittig.

After this challenging hike to a tower, an icy cold Tower Station by Mother Road Brewing Company is just what is in order. A healthy dose of Citra hops gives the unfiltered IPA aromas of tangerine and pineapple. Pilsner and Pale malts balance the hop-derived flavors of grapefruit in this exceptional Flagstaff craft beer (7.3 ABV 70 IBU.)  The India Pale Ale gained national attention just six months after its release when Beer Advocate listed it in March 2016 as a “Top-Rated American IPAs.”

Mother Road Brewing Company, which derives its moniker from John Steinbeck’s pet name for Route 66, has two Flagstaff breweries where you can enjoy this copper-colored IPA. (See #3 and #4 on the Flagstaff Brew Trail map at the end of this story.) Likewise, brewers named Tower Station IPA for a Route 66 landmark, Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Café, known for its towering spire.

4.) ‘Railhead Red’ by Beaver Street Brewery

Railhead Red at Beaver Street Brewery and Whistle Stop Café.

Pair with: Red Mountain Trail No. 159

Although the trailhead is further from town than others on this list of Flagstaff craft beer and trail pairings, this hike is so worth the 40-minute drive. You’ll get a taste of what it’s like to walk inside a gigantic volcanic cinder cone – inactive, of course. The 1.5-mile hike takes you through the open terrain of pinon and juniper (think ‘no shade’) to a natural, red rock amphitheater. A six-foot, stair-like ladder gets you into the vast cone where you’ll discover “hoodoos” (erosional pillars,) balanced rocks and other unusual geomorphic formations. This easy ramble is excellent for families and intriguing enough for solo explorers. Bring plenty of water, because you’ll want to stay for a while to soak it all in. Take US Hwy 180 northwest out of Flagstaff towards the Grand Canyon. Turn left onto Forest Service Road 9023V. The trailhead is 0.3 miles down the gravel road.

After scrambling amongst the red hoodoos and dry, narrow canyon-like paths, you’ll be refreshment-ready. Indeed, I can’t think of a better pairing than Beaver Street’s Railhead Red. Brewers balance crystal and caramel malts with moderate hops to create the tasty special bitter. (5.6 ABV 50 IBU.) Stay for lunch or dinner as Beaver Street Brewery, the first of Flagstaff breweries, has a full menu. (Check out #5 on the Flagstaff Brew Trail map.)

5.) ‘First Light Lager’ by Lumberyard Brewing Company

First Light Lager by Lumberyard Brewing Company released in February 2020.

Pair with: Lava’s Edge Trail at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Lava’s Edge Trail is rated moderate because of the tricky volcanic terrain. On this 3.4-mile roundtrip hike, you’ll walk over loose cinders and rough basalt as you meander along the jagged edge of the Bonito Lava Flow. You might even imagine that you are on the moon as you spot the vast lava formations. In fact, NASA saw similarities to the moon’s surface here, too. They used the lunar-like terrain for Apollo astronauts training. Ask rangers at the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument visitor center for maps of how to get to Lava’s Edge Trail for your own moonwalking experience.

Sunset Crater with dark-colored Bonito Lava Flow. Photo by Stacey Wittig.

First Light Lager is a light, easy-drinking lager. Its clean, crisp, hop-spicy flavor is slightly bitter with malty overtones. (4.2 ABV 17 IBU.) The entry-level Flagstaff craft beer pairs easily with this moderate trail because it’s easy to imbibe, but has layers of flavor to keep it interesting. Just like this Flagstaff hike. Find Lumberyard Brewing Company’s convenient location labeled as #6 on the Flagstaff Brew Trail map below.

6.) Beer Flight by Dark Sky Brewing

Beer Flight at Dark Sky Brewing Company.

Pair with: Island Trail (temporarily closed) at Walnut Canyon National Monument

When you can’t decide which beer to choose, it’s time to order a flight. And what could pair better with beer flights than the flights of stairs encountered on the Island Trail at Walnut Canyon National Monument? Hike down to ancient Sinagua cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon by way of 273 steps. The sunny trail affords a one-hour workout (roundtrip.) The paved path makes this a springtime favorite when snow blocks Flagstaff trails at higher elevations.

Island Trail at Walnut Canyon National Monument.

Since Dark Sky Brewing Company is continually rotating small-batch brews every week, I recommend that you do a flight of what they happen to have on tap when you arrive. You can choose from curious micro-batches such as Sunshine and Rain Sour, a fruited

Mescal barrel-aged sour (7.5 ABV) conditioned on watermelon and pineapple or Death’s Door (Nitro) Porter, a Porter brewed with rye malt, hazelnut coffee and lactose. (4.7 ABV 18 IBU.) Dark Sky Brewing Company offers some of the most creative of all Flagstaff craft beers. (#8 on the Flagstaff Brew Trail Map.)

7.) ‘Kachina Throwback Ale’ by Grand Canyon Brewing Company

Pair with: Kachina Trail No. 150

The Kachina Trail just outside Arizona Snowbowl Resort is one of my picks for the tall bracken fern undergrowth brushing my legs and the towering aspens overhead. You’ll walk in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area to trails end at Weatherford Trail five miles away. If a ten-mile roundtrip is too much, simply walk as far as you wish and then turn around and go back the way you came. The rolling trail takes you around the south face of the San Francisco Peaks for eventual wide views of the city of Flagstaff.

Fall is an excellent time to hike Kachina Trail near Arizona Snowbowl Resort Photo by Stacey Wittig.

Although Kachina Throwback Ale is packaged to commemorate Grand Canyon Brewing Company’s partnership with the Arizona Coyotes (it’s the official craft beer of Arizona’s NHL franchise), the craft beer also makes a good mascot for the Kachina Trail.  The clean, light, refreshing American Wheat Ale is a perfect thirst quencher for alpine hikers. The subtle hop character differentiates American wheat ale from typical European-style wheat beer.  (4.9 ABV 18 IBU.)  Grand Canyon Brewing Company is #9 on the Flagstaff Brew Trail map.

8.) ‘Agassiz Amber’ by Flagstaff Brewing Company

Pair with: Weatherford Trail No. 102

The Weatherford Trail starts at 11,808 feet above sea level and weaves through the Ponderosa pine forest before it starts switchbacking up the eastern slope of Fremont Peak. You’ll trek around the north side and, after bridging Fremont Saddle, you’ll skirt the east flank of Agassiz Peak before intersecting Humphrey’s Peak Trail … after nine strenuous miles. Agassiz Peak is the second-highest mountain in Arizona, but don’t attempt to summit. Fragile ragwort, part of the tundra groundcover, is listed as a threatened species, so the area is protected and banned to hikers when there is no snow. So besides a ride to the top of Arizona Snowbowl’s Scenic Chairlift, the Weatherford Trail is the closest you’ll get to Agassiz Peak.

It only fits to pair a hike around Agassiz Peak with Agassiz Amber by Flagstaff Brewing Company. With a name like Flagstaff Brewing Company, you’d think this establishment is one of the first Flagstaff breweries—and it is. Founded in 1994, the brewery (#7 on the Flagstaff Brew Trail map) still handcrafts brews in small batches on the premises. Agassiz Amber is one of their most popular ales. Brewers balance caramel malt with Cascade and Willamette hops to produce this medium-bodied American amber. (5.75 ABV 18 IBU.)

Flagstaff Breweries Map

Use this Flagstaff Brew Trail map to find all nine Flagstaff breweries. You can download the map as part of the Flagstaff Brewery Trail Passport. Collect stickers at each of the Flagstaff brewery locations and adhere them to the passport to earn a cool commemorative beer glass. The traditional English pub glass is imprinted with “Arizona’s Craft Brew City,” so designated by Arizona’s governor. Download your Brewery Trail Passport now to get all the details.

Read more Flagstaff craft beer and hiking trail pairings here.

* ABV = % alcohol by volume
**IBU = International Bitterness Units

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About the Author

Stacey Wittig

Stacey Wittig

Stacey Wittig’s adventures have led her up the Inca Trail in Peru eating fried caterpillars, across the plains of Spain enjoying steamed barnacles, and through the vineyards of Cinque Terre sipping Chianti Classico. “The Grand Canyon State is a remarkable place to call home,” declares the wandering writer, who writes from her home in Flagstaff.

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